You might not realize it, but the Wilshire Rotary Christmas tree lot, at 568 N Larchmont Blvd., does a lot more than sell premium Christmas trees. We checked in with operator and founder Scot Clifford, with a question about how the trees were grown, for a story we are working on about earth-friendly holiday decorations…and we and ended up learning how the philanthropy goes well beyond the lot’s annual donations to the Rotary foundations.
Clifford, who along with his wife Wendy, started the lot in 2007 with a simple goal to provide a community service that would raise funds for the local Rotary chapter. He was inspired by a fellow parent at his daughter’s school who successfully operates Tina’s Trees, a Christmas tree lot in the San Fernando Valley for many years, and who agreed to mentor Clifford to get him started. Fellow Rotarian Bill Ahmanson provided the space, and the Cliffords opened that fall with a pumpkin patch, to promote the soon-to-follow Christmas Tree lot.
The Cliffords are going into their 12th year selling 2,000-2,500 trees and raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Wilshire Rotary and the International Rotary Foundation. Clifford said last year that the lot contributed $60,000 to both foundations. Locally, the funds are used to pay for hard-bound dictionaries for 11 local elementary schools in our area, as well as for scholarship programs at local high schools. In addition, the Cliffords donate trees to local charities. Just last week, in fact, they delivered trees to young adults living in apartments operated by Covenant House, with decorations supplied by St. Brendan’s school kids.
Clifford is always looking for a charity who needs a tree.
“I am always looking for people who need a tree,” Clifford told the Buzz, “I want the trees to end up in someone’s house for the holidays.”
The lot is seasonal and family run with a combination of volunteers and employees, and that’s were we get to Clifford’s favorite part of operating the lot. Several years ago, he said, a fellow Rotarian approached him about hiring formerly incarcerated individuals to work on the lot. Clifford said he was initially reluctant, but he decided to give it a try. And he’s glad he did.
“This is a labor intensive business with 20-25 employees, and these guys are so anxious to get a chance to work, they have become like a family,” said Clifford. Some of them have gone on to get full time jobs, but they still make time to work for Clifford in the evenings and on weekends, because it’s been such a positive experience. “They are so appreciative and very thankful to have the opportunity to be treated respectfully and deal with the community on a courteous and respectful level,” explained Clifford.
Clifford has dozens of success stories…like the gentleman who served 38 years in prison, then came to work with Clifford. He earned an Associates Degree and now has a full time job, but he still does maintenance on the lot during the off season. Working with the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Center for Restorative Justice and Amity Foundation, Clifford said he hires between 6-12 new people every year, and he’s found that employing these individuals has become “the most important aspect of the operation now.”
Clifford is deeply thankful that his idea to help make money for his favorite charities has turned into a business that helps give people a chance to start a new life. He’s convinced there’s something magical about the lot and the trees. He says it has drawn others in to help him, too, like his Jewish son-in-law who works with his son to run the daily operation or the young boy, also Jewish, who started as a volunteer and is now one of his best tree salesmen; bringing life to the spirit of Christmas.
If you don’t have a tree yet and want to support a great local charity that’s really giving back to the community, there are still many of premium trees available at the Wilshire Rotary Christmas tree lot. It’s open from 9 am – 9 pm every day through December 24th.